Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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the most important thing to realise about warren ellis and colleen doran's graphic novel Orbiter is that, clocking in at just under one hundred pages, it's a novelette. the term novel brings with it a bunch of expectations: character arcs, sub-plots, various thematics, and a pacing that allows for these things to develop.

a novelette is different. depending on the genre, the idea or character will control the arc of the story. Orbiter is a hard science fiction story about space flight, and thus, it is the idea which drives it. the three main characters are hardly more than sketches, mouth pieces for the plot to develop, while the other characters are often quite less.

but, if you follow that the plot of the story is space flight, and that it's a novelette, then these things won't bother you. indeed, should you go in expecting a graphic novel along the lines of From Hell or Cages, then you will be surely disappointed.

in Orbiter the shuttle venture returns to earth after ten years absence, holding only the pilot, and radically changed. the story follows the investigations of one man and three women, each wanting to regain the passion of space flight through their investigation. this is where the story succeeds: ellis and doran have a passion for the subject which rises from the pages, drawing the reader in through technobabble and other such strange scientific ideas that ran the risk of being all that the story is about. it's a fine line to walk in a hard science fiction story, and really, many writers don't succeed. but ellis has a tight rein on the subject, and doran's visuals, mainly of characters, are tight and compelling. (though i feel i should also mention her fantastic images of venture in space, and the opening when venture returns to earth.)

for ellis, who is best known for the hunter s. thompson inspired Transmetropolitian, the pulp inspired Planetary, and the wide screen madness of the Authority, Orbiter is a welcomed change. some of his recent out put has run the risk of being the same character, the same madness, the occasional twist. one could say that there was no real growth in ellis, and reading Reload or Mek, one has the feeling that they've been here before, and looking at either Transmetropolitian or the Authority will answer that reader's question.

thankfully, Orbiter gives the reader something new from ellis.

colleen doran, who provides the art, is not someone's work i'm all that familiar with. i've heard of A Distant Soil, but i've never read it. i don't remember her work from Sandman, but there were many artists on that title, so that's not surprising. what i can say, is that her work fits the story perfectly. it's hard to imagine this story told in another visual style, and that, i find, speaks volumes.

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